Pete the Tramp. Artist: C.D. Russell.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1932
Creator: Clarence D. Russell
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In 1930s newspaper comics, the heroes had office jobs like Dagwood, military jobs like Don Winslow of the Navy, or miscellaneous jobs like Popeye. One "occupation" was growing …

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… in public visibility during that decade, but very much under-represented in the funnies — until cartoonist C.D. Russell (formerly Percy Crosby's assistant on Skippy) started pointing out the humorous side of the increasingly practiced (because of the Great Depression) homeless lifestyle.

Russell was a regular contributor to Judge, the highly respected magazine that published early work by Carl Barks, George Herriman and the like. Many of Russell's panels concerned a middle-aged homeless man wearing ill-fitting rags, who never shaved — the stereotype of a tramp, but funny, and drawn in a loose, cartoony style that easily lent itself to good facial expressions.

These cartoons caught the eye of newspaper magnate and comics aficionado William Randolph Hearst, who had already raided The New Yorker for The Little King and would shortly raid The Saturday Evening Post for Henry. The character didn't have a name in Judge, but when, on January 10, 1932, he debuted from Hearst's King Features Syndicate, he was dubbed Pete the Tramp.

Pete was like most fictional tramps of the time in that he moved around a lot, was always looking for a handout, did an occasional odd job when he couldn't avoid it, and was generally disreputable. But he didn't resemble the worst of them, i.e., wasn't violent or a sneak thief — except the latter, but not very often and never for anything of great value. Pete was often seen in the company of a small yellow dog of indeterminate breed, whom he addressed as "Boy". Under the name "Pete's Pup", the dog was the star of the Sunday page's topper during the first couple of years.

Pete's strip was popular during the Depression, and still maintained reasonable circulation after that period's end made his situation less excusable. In fact, Russell continued to do Pete the Tramp for the rest of his life. He died on October 22, 1963, and the strip ended December 12 of the same year. The last use of the character was in 1967, when he appeared in the back pages of a few King Features comic books.


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Text ©2005 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.